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Laser Pointers and the Law

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#1 RoyZ

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 02:02 AM

I'm planning a star party with a fellow amateur.  We plan to make a presentation on what we will be looking at before going out to the scopes.  Once outside we would like to point out the objects with our laser pointers.  I know we have to beware to not point them in at aircraft.  I have heard there is a general prohibition within 10 miles of an airport, but don't know if this is true.  I have Google references to not point them "indiscriminately" toward the sky.  I have also read at least one recent article here recommending using a laser pointer to point at sky objects.  Are we on solid ground using green laser pointers to direct attention to stars and constellations?

 

Roy



#2 sg6

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 05:04 AM

One (at least here) simple start is contact your local police station and tell them. Especially if in a populated area.

Means you get direct information, and hopefully they will be aware of the use in case some one else reports 2 death rays scanning the sky for victims to fry.

 

They tend to not be the problem they are made out to be. Biggest problem is letting some kid get hold of yours to try. They turn immediatly into Darth Vader and want to slice people in half. Had that problem here and while elevating the kid off the ground informed him that a hospital bed awaited his presence.

 

That rather rare item called "Common sense" is best applied.

 

Have a reason for not letting someone try yours. I have found that explaining that if I let them then Carolin would tear me limb from limb works well - she is the main organiser.

 

We use them a lot. But it is an astro establishment, and well managed also. And they do not not slice people in half nor anything else that is advertised. Owing to the divergence they spread out pretty fast also, and you could not hold one on a target that is say 100 yards away. It might bounce around the target but would not remain fixed on it.

 

In an odd way the 532nm ones are a bit self regulating - they get cold, they turn off. That is another excuse for keeping hold of your own at all times. I give a few "reasons" as one of them is easier then "No. Go away!!"



#3 AaronF

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 05:05 AM

Contact your local police department and ask them.

An internet forum really isn't the best place to get legal advice. What if someone here gives you the wrong answer, or a correct answer from a different jurisdiction, and you follow it and then get into trouble?



#4 markb

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 07:32 AM

The 10km restriction, AFAIK, was part of a Canadian response to the intentional use problem, search CN for Canada laser pointers.

 

This is primarily a Federal (in the US) jurisdictional issue, and you should do google searches for FAA and FDA, lasers and aircraft, and then check the websites of those agencies, as well as follow links to regulations and statutes. AFAIK nothing bars your type of use. 

 

I assume there might be some local jurisdictions that have jumped in, for that local law enforcement might help, otherwise I doubt that they would know unless recent involved in what would have been a Federal investigation. I am personally not read of such local laws, but never checked.

 

You could contact those Federal agencies directly, contact an Aviation law firm for pro bono advice, or contact the AOPA pilots association which did cover the issue when the cretins that jumped on the imbecile activity bandwagon made it a real, and too common, problem. As drones near active airspace continue to be. Idiots.



#5 Tony Flanders

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 08:10 AM

For what it's worth, if you're using legal 5 mW lasers, nobody will ever be the wiser. They're completely invisible to anybody more than 50 feet from the beam. And it's the easiest thing in the world to avoid airplanes. The only time when lasers are a problem for aircraft is when idiots intentionally target them.


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#6 Napp

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 08:23 AM

I am a member of two clubs.  At each club's outreach events a member gives a tour of the sky using a laser.  One of the events is held monthly in a city park that is next to a Naval Air Station.  Just use common sense.  Don't point the laser at an aircraft and don't point the laser at people.  And don't hand the laser over to attendees.  It's not uncommon for kids to want to hold the laser.  However, I once had to explain to a parent why a laser is not a toy and she really shouldn't buy one for her young son. The scary thing is that I don't think she was convinced.


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#7 Barlowbill

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 11:08 AM

Been using one for a couple of years and I live about 1/4 mile from the end of the runway of a busy small airport.  Never had a problem.  



#8 SteveG

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 03:41 PM

Don’t point them at aircraft or people and you’ll be fine.


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#9 RaulTheRat

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 03:56 PM

Yes I would not worry about it at all. I'm an airline pilot - the few times I've been lasered it's evidently hard to keep the beam on a plane, and the laser needs to be fairly powerful to illuminate the cockpit significantly at any distance.

If we were accidentally flashed by a normal low powered laser, it would be so weak and momentary that we probably wouldn't even notice.
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#10 MalVeauX

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 04:18 PM



I'm planning a star party with a fellow amateur.  We plan to make a presentation on what we will be looking at before going out to the scopes.  Once outside we would like to point out the objects with our laser pointers.  I know we have to beware to not point them in at aircraft.  I have heard there is a general prohibition within 10 miles of an airport, but don't know if this is true.  I have Google references to not point them "indiscriminately" toward the sky.  I have also read at least one recent article here recommending using a laser pointer to point at sky objects.  Are we on solid ground using green laser pointers to direct attention to stars and constellations?

 

Roy

Unless they're crazy strong, no one will see them and  unless the aircraft you point them into for whatever reason are really low flying, you'll be fine. It's overstated around here and elsewhere about lasers in general. But legally yes it's not legal to point them at airplanes or people's faces is the bottom line. So if you see blinking lights in the sky, wait till it passes. And don't point it at cars or anyone passing by in their faces. Otherwise, good to go. As someone else pointed out (Tony?), if the output is typical (low), it won't even be seen  unless you're near by and definitely not make it into thousands of feet into the atmosphere. The only true risk is close range eyeballs.

 

You can of course look up your local laws on laser use. It's that simple.

 

I use them with outreach with the kids and they are excellent, fun, safe, legal and we just don't point them at aircraft nor eyeballs.

 

45239014774_8a8fc40295_c.jpg

 

32373782881_231c6d7f15_c.jpg


Very best,



#11 MellonLake

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 05:00 PM

It is a $10,000 fine to be caught outdoors within 10km of major airport in Canada with a 5mW laser. It does not even have to be on.
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#12 RoyZ

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 09:43 PM

Thanks, All.  Lots of good suggestions.  I'm an AOPA member and should have thought about checking with them and the Phoenix FAA.  I was more concerned about the locals than the Feds.  Thanks for your help.

 

Roy


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#13 Tony Flanders

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Posted 28 January 2020 - 07:29 AM

As someone else pointed out (Tony?), if the output is typical (low), it won't even be seen  unless you're near by and definitely not make it into thousands of feet into the atmosphere. The only true risk is close range eyeballs.


Oh, a low-power laser beam travels easily for thousands of feet -- distance is not the issue. But as long as the beam is traveling through air, it's harmless. It's only when it hits something opaque that it becomes a problem.

 

The air does indeed scatter some of the beam's light back to the ground -- more or less depending on the transparency. But 5 mW is extremely feeble in absolute terms, and the amount of light scattered by any given parcel of air is minuscule. The only reason that you can see the beam is that you're standing near the source, where all those little parcels of air coincide along your line of sight, reinforcing each other's brightness. If you walk 100 feet away, the parcels no longer coincide, and the beam becomes invisible.

 

But if it hits an airplane a mile high, it is indeed visible, because you are then looking at a single point that's reflecting back almost all the light from the laser.


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#14 Sully606

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 12:19 AM

Regulation and control[edit]

The U.S. FAA Laser Free Zone extends horizontally 2 NM (3,700 m) from the centerline of all runways (two dark lines in this diagram) with additional 3 NM (5,560 m) extensions at each end of a runway. Vertically, the LFZ extends to 2,000 feet (610 m) above ground level.

The U.S. FAA Critical Flight Zone extends horizontally 10 nmi (19 km) around the airport, and extends vertically to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above ground level. The optional Sensitive Flight Zone is designated around special airspace needing bright-light protection.
In the United States, laser airspace guidelines can be found in Federal Aviation Administration Order JO 7400.2, Chapter 29 "Outdoor Laser Operations", and bright light airspace guidelines are in Chapter 30 "High Intensity Light Operations".[28]

In the United Kingdom, CAP 736 is the "Guide for the Operation of Lasers, Searchlights and Fireworks in United Kingdom Airspace." [29]

For all laser users, the ANSI Z136.6 document gives guidance for the safe use of outdoor lasers.[14] While this document is copyrighted by ANSI and is relatively costly, a flavor of its recommendations can be seen in NASA's Use Policy for Outdoor Lasers.[15]

Airspace zones[edit]
The U.S. FAA has established airspace zones. These protect the area around airports and other sensitive airspace from the hazards of safe-but-too-bright visible laser light exposure:

The Laser Free Zone extends immediately around and above runways, as depicted at right. Light irradiance within the zone must be less than 50 nanowatts per square centimeter (0.05 microwatts per square centimeter). This was set at "a level that would not cause any visual disruption."[18]
The Critical Flight Zone covers 10 nautical miles (NM) around the airport; the light limit is 5 microwatts per square centimeter (μW/cm²), determined to be the level at which glare becomes significant.[22]
The optional Sensitive Flight Zone is designated by the FAA, military or other aviation authorities where light intensity must be less than 100 μW/cm². This might be done for example around a busy flight path or where military operations are taking place. This was identified as the limiting level beyond which flash blindness and afterimages could occur.[22]
The Normal Flight Zone covers all other airspace. The light intensity must be less than 2.5 milliwatts per square centimeter (2500 μW/cm²). This is about half of the Class 3R power level.
For non-visible lasers (infrared and ultraviolet), the irradiance at the aircraft must be eye-safe—below the Maximum Permissible Exposure level for that wavelength. For pulsed visible lasers, the irradiance at the aircraft must be both eye-safe and must be at or below any applicable FAA laser zone.

In the UK, restrictions are in place in a zone that includes a circle 3 nmi (5.6 km) in radius around an airport, plus extensions from each end of each runway. The runway zones are rectangles 20 nmi (37 km) in total length and 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) wide, centered about each runway.

 

This is from Wikipedia. I also checked the FAA’s site but could not find anything definitive except if you’re caught pointing any laser at a plane there are big fines and potential imprisonment. I have no working knowledge of lasers and would like to know what you think. Do the power of the lasers mentioned on the Wikipedia page come into play in astronomy?



#15 Sully606

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 12:23 AM

https://en.wikipedia...aviation_safety

 

Sorry about the long article. Here’s the web page for easier reading

 

This is from Wikipedia. I also checked the FAA’s site but could not find anything definitive except if you’re caught pointing any laser at a plane there are big fines and potential imprisonment. I have no working knowledge of lasers and would like to know what you think. Do the power of the lasers mentioned on the Wikipedia page come into play in astronomy?

Sully


Edited by Sully606, 29 January 2020 - 01:16 AM.


#16 Eddgie

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 10:24 AM

Yes they do. Is illegal and dangerous to point a laser at an airplane in an air port traffic control area. 

 

While at the distances involved may not pose a treat of lasting damage to the pilot's vision, it can temporarily blind them and at the very least case, distract them from operating their craft, and this would be particularly dangerous in an airport traffic control area, were the aircraft are at minimum separation distances and trying to maintain exact air speeds on departure and approach.

 

So, yes it is illegal, and it is for very good reason. 

 

And even if the laser is not of the power that is illegal, if you get arrested, by the time you pay for lawyer to fight the charges, then one could say that it would be ill advised to demonstrate any behavior that would enhance the possibility of arrest. 


Edited by Eddgie, 29 January 2020 - 10:26 AM.

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#17 markb

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 12:05 PM

FAA

 

https://www.faa.gov/...iatives/lasers/

 

Reg reference

 

https://www.faa.gov/...inal 060111.pdf

 

Coordinating with Local Law Enforcement letter

 

https://www.faa.gov/...EA_guidance.pdf

 

The Wikipedia info looks like it came from, or was the source for, https://amedleyofpot...ion-safety.html

 

Very readable, illustrated and usable discussion of the dangers in that website.

 

At first glance it does not appear that there are additional regulations in place, and the FAA Orders referenced in the Wikipedia page, see for example, https://tfmlearning....#air2901.html.1 , may not (or may, an Aviation law expert could make that call) have the force of law.

 

Certainly, the guidelines of the runway areas discussed in the Orders and restated in the web pages are a really good absolute minimum safety guideline to use. Like many guidelines I would be inclined to double those safety areas.



#18 phillip

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 01:21 PM

Sad that few isolated cases made lasers an issue. People purposely pointing at aircraft rediculous doing so.

 

I no longer use one. Away from airports with lower power ones likely ok in most cases.

 

One of our towns abit caution even notifying authorities. Know of a case where mom called them checking if far enough from local airport, was a small hobby  rocket. The instructions on it actually cautioned to check with local police!  They actually came to the door and took it away. Good grief !!

 

Clear Sky


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#19 stubeeef

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 01:30 PM

I'm an airline pilot and have been lazed, in Columbia, and use a laser pointer often.

 

I have no problem with them, like everything its not whats used BUT how its used.

 

I do know, and you may as well, that many star parties prohibit them.


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#20 brentknight

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 04:32 PM

Like airports, I stay away from those star parties.  Usually way to many imagers lighting up the field...


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#21 Volvonium

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 05:00 PM

Just keep the laser use to a minimum and be mindful about aircraft at all times.  Extra vigilance is needed in areas of the sky that are known air traffic corridors.  It's good to have an app like FlightRadar24 running if you live near an area with a higher volume of flight traffic at night.

 

I live near an airport and use lasers with no issue.   I audit my use by referencing:

 

https://www.faa.gov/...es/lasers/laws/

 

They have updated links to Excel spreadsheets with reported laser incidents (with color laser used, time, date area, etc) and I correlate my observing time with reported incidents in my area/airport code.  No overlap in my use whenever I check.  What is interesting to note is that the FAA's reported laser incident data seems to indicate the vast majority of laser incidents on planes occurs from 1am-5am.  This tells me that it's most likely drunk/drugged people lighting up planes.


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#22 Frisky

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 11:33 PM

Laws? What laws? I don't see no laws. We don't need no stinkin' laser laws!

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Edited by Frisky, 29 January 2020 - 11:42 PM.

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#23 Sully606

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 06:53 PM

http://www.alpa.org/...ine/i-was-lased

 

Here’s an article from the pilot’s perspective. 
 

Sully



#24 SteveG

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 06:58 PM

http://www.alpa.org/...ine/i-was-lased

 

Here’s an article from the pilot’s perspective. 
 

Sully

I'm a pilot, and was lazed myself. I was circling over a city in WA at night, and the very bright green flash lit up my cockpit causing some confusion, but I managed. Again, I was intentionally targeted by a very bright (not for astronomy) laser.

 

I still use my laser for astronomy on every viewing session.


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#25 bignerdguy

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Posted Yesterday, 10:08 PM

I agree with a lot of the people here.  I used to work for a telescope shop that held a customer training session every month and we used Green Lasers quite a bit to point out objects people could look at.  We were always careful not to point it at any plane and always let the police department know when we were going to be out so they would know if any calls came in what was happening. 

 

From the ground it looks like the beam can only travel so far, say 100 feet or so, but you have to remember that is simply the max distance the light can be reflected back to you and still be seen... by YOU.  most laser pointers nowadays stay reasonably collimated for several miles before being too wide to do any damage.  However since most aircraft fly no higher than 45,000 feet or so (commercial, not military) this can be a problem.  Even 5mW is enough to seriously blind someone if shined right on their eyeballs without protection.  Although it is hard to hold a beam by hand and shine it at a plane it only takes a second or less to temporarily blind someone if they are flying low enough.

 

In recent years we have had several instances of pilots in the Dallas/Ft Worth area who were blinded for a short time because someone was stupidly trying to shine a laser at airplanes.  There was even a recent article showing a picture of an idiot shining one at a police helicopter.  I most cases there was someone who could take over for the pilot and was either able to land it or control it long enough for the pilot to recover.  However it is only a matter of time before a tragedy happens because of someone being an idiot and illuminating a plane with one.  

 

Just. Don't. do it!

 

If you are responsible and avoid such things you will be fine.  using a laser for a star party or to show the night sky to someone is perfectly fine if you take reasonable precautions and use common sense.




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